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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Girl, Interrupted (1999)

"Have you ever confused a dream with life? Or stolen something when you have the cash? Have you ever been blue? Or thought your train was moving while sitting still? Maybe I was just crazy. Maybe it was the sixties. Or maybe I was just a girl, interrupted."
- Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 07, 2000

Stars: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie
Other Stars: Whoopi Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave, Clea Duvall, Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss, Jared Leto and Jeffrey Tambor
Director: James Mangold

Manufacturer: Sony Pictures DVD Center
MPAA Rating: R for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality and suicide.
Run Time: 02h:07m:14s
Release Date: June 06, 2000
UPC: 043396047464
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB-A- A-

DVD Review

Nearly everyone has at some point had the sensation of waking up from a nightmare and not being entirely sure whether you were dreaming or whether it actually happened. The terrified, disoriented feeling can be overwhelming. Now, imagine yourself in that situation, except that it can happen to you while you're in mid-conversation with someone. You'll have a pretty good idea of what was going on with Susanna Kaysen, a young woman who ended up being committed to a mental institution for about a year, diagnosed with the vague "borderline personality disorder."

As the film makes clear, and is emphasized in the commentary, there's no dark secret to be uncovered and no easy answers; this cloud descended upon her and later lifted and no one is really sure why. This provides for a complex and interesting drama that doesn't give us a pat solution. Rather, we undergo a journey of exploration that takes us into some unexpected places.

Winona Ryder turns in an exceptional performance as Kaysen, a confused young woman in the late 60's who is having a variety of mental problems for no apparent reason. While she starts off as a spoiled child with serious chain-smoking habit (a sad crutch that Ryder uses far too often as a character trait), during her confinement she develops an emotional warmth and power that is compelling. Angelina Jolie won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as the sociopathic Lisa, who befriends Kaysen and at times seems to be in control of the hospital; she certainly knows which strings to pull and buttons to push on everyone around her. Jolie can be alternately charming and absolutely terrifying in this role; a young female Jack Nicholson is the closest approximation that comes to mind.

Whoopi Goldberg and Jeffrey Tambor also give excellent performances as institution staff who are trying to help but are often at the end of their patience with the unruly young inmates.

The film version of Kaysen's autobiographical book takes a few liberties with the actual facts of Kaysen's story, but does so in a fashion consistent with the themes and values of the book, so there is little to quibble about on that point. One area that the film does cheat in is minimizing the hallucinations that Susanna suffered; while some of these were shot, they were cut (and can be found in the deleted scenes section). We get a reference to Susanna's belief that for a time the bones in her hand vanished, but in the deleted scenes we actually see the hallucination, with a greater impact. The end result is to make Kaysen seem more like a victim of a trumped-up diagnosis, a la Frances, than someone actually suffering from a mental disease. The deleted scenes make it far more clear that there really was something wrong with Kaysen, whatever it might have been, and that she wasn't just having mood swings.

The direction of the film is stellar, as we are transported via flashback to numerous episodes of Susanna's incipient madness with seamless transitions. The sound design helps a great deal in making these transitions. We truly feel as if we are coming unstuck in time with Kaysen (the director in his commentary acknowledges the debt to Slaughterhouse-Five on this point, but I think it's accomplished more fluidly here).

Overall, an excellent cast gives first-rate performances in a gripping, if somewhat harrowing drama. The finale is a masterpiece of emotional intensity, and can be a bit difficult to watch; this isn't because of gore or the like, but because the actresses really pull back the skin of their characters and let us see what is in their innermost hearts.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The image is, surprisingly for Columbia, a weak point on this disc. The video tends to be rather soft throughout, although the picture is not smeary. We just don't see sharp edges. Part of the problem may be that the bit rate is extremely low for an RSDL disc; it hovers between 3 and 5 Mbps. While it's possible that this softness was intentional, the director doesn't mention it in his commentary; in fact, his statements about not presenting the inmates in an attractive diffused light would contradict this notion. Colors tend to be drab earth tones, but this point is certainly intentional and part of the thematic portrayal of the subject matter.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio is first-rate throughout. One highly interesting point is that the scenes in the present tend to be center-focused, with some solid directionality as appropriate; in contrast, the flashback sequences are given a full surround sound that is truly immersing. This effect helps make the blur between reality and dream all the greater. I found little difference between the 5.1 track and the Dolby Surround version. Part of the reason for this is that there is little LFE to be heard. The disc defaults to the Dolby Surround track. Dialogue sounds natural throughout and little to no distortion is audible.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bram Stoker's Dracula, Little Women, Foxfire
5 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
Isolated Music Score
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director and screenwriter James Mangold
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:16m:55s

Extra Extras:
  1. Director commentary to deleted scenes
Extras Review: Although not designated as a "special edition" by Columbia, this is one packed disc. We get a terrific director's commentary, both through the feature itself and the five deleted scenes (which total nearly half an hour). The commentary can be shut off during the deleted scenes. One of those scenes is Kaysen's encounter with the Vermeer painting that gives the book and film its title; while I agree with the director that it would have spoiled the pacing, this is definitely a nice extra to have on the disc. The same goes for the greater exploration of Kaysen's hallucinations, as mentioned above. In all, these deleted scenes help give a much greater appreciation of the film as a package. The deleted scenes can be selected individually or played all in one go, which is a nice menu design. The same can be said for the talent files and filmographies, making the exploration of the special features less of a headache.

The commentary from director James Mangold is full, and we get plenty of insight into the project and the making of the film. Mangold, who wrote the screenplay, is absolutely forthcoming about influences and the Wizard of Oz subtext that runs throughout the film. He gives quite a bit of information about Ryder's interest in the project (she was one of the executive producers) and fills us in a bit about her brief stay in an institution at age 20. This made me really wish for an additional commentary from Ryder; clearly this film was very important to her. We get some of that in the all-too-brief HBO First Look featurette that is included on the disc, but I would have like to have heard more. The omission of a Ryder commentary, which seems like an obvious thing to include since she is in nearly every scene, is the only thing that knocks my grade for extras down from a solid A.

Finally, there is an isolated music score which includes the ubiquitous 1960's songs as well as the original music for the film.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Girl, Interrupted is an emotionally-charged drama, full of fine performances and a bevy of terrific extras. This disc is a definite keeper and a solid presentation of one of the best films of 1999. The only area lacking is the questionable softness of the video.

 


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